February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: gadget

Building a “Robot Friend”

From computers, keyboards, phones, printers, fax machines ...

“Robot Friend” opens like an early-Internet take on Pink Floyd’s “Money”: the beat is made of known, non-musical content. In place of the cash register, though, there is, foremost, the halcyon squelch of an ISP/fax handshake. According to the track’s composer/performer, Johnny Ripper, “everything in this song is made from recordings of electronic tools – computers, keyboards, phones, printers, fax machines, televisions, disk drives etc.” The result is a slow yet toe-tapping pleasure, one whose familiar verse/chorus near-monotony gains purpose thanks to its basis in everyday mechanisms.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/johnny_ripper. More from Johnny Ripper, who’s based in Montréal, Canada, at twitter.com/johnny_ripper.

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SOUND RESEARCH LOG: On Gyrosurveillance

That fly on the wall could be the vibration of your cellphone:

“In the age of surveillance paranoia, most smartphone users know better than to give a random app or website permission to use their device’s microphone. But researchers have found there’s another, little-considered sensor in modern phones that can also listen in on their conversations. And it doesn’t even need to ask.”

From an article by Andy Greenberg at wired.com.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.

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SOUND RESEARCH LOG: The “Metallic Accent” of the Vocoder

The New Yorker posted a short, 11-minute mini-documentary about the Vocoder. Laurie Anderson praises its corporate aesthetic. Frank Gentges discusses its military history. Dave Tompkins talks about Bell Labs technical innovations (noting its “metallic accent”), among other things. There’s music from Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, and Newcleus, whose Cozmo D is interviewed; somewhat dispirated, he says with a half shrug, “Some of the dopest shit we have came out of military technology.”

The documentary is the second in the newyorker.com‘s Object of Interest series.

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project sound.tumblr.com.

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The Dance Music of Failing Digital Memory Systems

A downloadable 2011 performance by Valentina Vuksic

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As solid state drives (SSD) rapidly put old physical digital memory into the trash bin of history, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the sounds intrinsic to them. While today SSD is widely appreciated for its near-silent operation, the primary sound source being the fan that is occasionally required to cool a computer system, in its day the physical disc drive was itself seen as a respite from the devices that had preceded it: the click of the shuffling CD player, the surface noise of vinyl, the playback mechanism of cassette tapes. Valentina Vuksic has made much of the inherent idiosyncrasies of the hard drive, the galloping clicks and fizzy transgressions, turning those signals of function and malfunction into sound for its own sake, a post-digital chamber music of delicate tensions. She’s employed the word Harddisko as an umbrella name for many of these projects.

It’s been two years since Sonic Circuits, the Washington, DC–based experimental music promoter, has updated its SoundCloud page, but there’s still plenty of engrossing listening there. A track by Vuksic dates, as well, from two years back, but since it currently shows just 331 listens, it’s safe to say it can benefit from some additional coverage. The performance is from a September 26, 2011, Sonic Circuits show at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. At nearly half an hour it is an engaging and challenging listen, the dance music of failed digital memory systems.

And here’s video of one of her Harddisko installations, from the 2007 Dutch Electronic Art Festival, including interview segments in which she describes her artistic and musical activity:

More on Vuksic’s Harddisko at harddisko.ch. More from Sonic Circuits at dc-soniccircuits.org, twitter.com/soniccircuits, and soniccircuits.tumblr.com.

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A Noob’s Tale

Fiddling with my first modular synth rack

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I’m just getting started fiddling with modular synthesis. Everything I know up to this point is pure book-learning. I’m like the Prioress in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. She has no firsthand experience of the culture (“And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, / After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe, / For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe”).

Here’s a snapshot (well, a ModularGrid simulacrum) of my rack, which I’m barely a week into starting to assemble. The stuff on the right of the rack I now have set up, while the stuff on the left is currently being nestled in bubble wrap and shipped to me. Mine is at http://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/96941; if there’s nothing on the left of that rack when you read this, it’s because everything has arrived. (The photo up top I originally posted to my instagram.com/dsqt account.)

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Since it’s possible there are noobs even noobier than me, I’ll explain that ModularGrid.net lets you construct virtual sets of modules. I’m working in the Eurorack format, which is more compact than its predecessors. Many Eurorack modules are loving recreations of items from early in the development of audio synthesis. ModularGrid describes itself as follows: “a database for modular synthesizers with an integrated planner where people gather information and sketch out their modulars.” It’s a very helpful service. Every individual module links through to information about the module, and you can view racks that employ a given module, or share general characteristics with yours. Some helpful people assited me in getting my ideas together for an initial rack by posting their own rough starter sketches in ModularGrid. Speaking of noobs, whatever you read here that isn’t self-explanatory can be easily digested thanks to the numerous resources on the web about Eurorack modules in particular and audio synthesis in general. That’s how I’ve been learning. The discussions at muffwiggler.com/forum have been useful.

I have this equipment all in a Tiptop Audio Happy Ending Kit with the “z-ears,” which put it at a slight angle. And I have some colorful 6″ and 12″ cords.

The rack currently doesn’t have outputs or a mixer because I’m just putting it through my Behringer 802 mixer.

In advance of the arrival of the VCO, the EKO, and the Gozinta, I’ve mostly been (1) reading up and (2) doing some basic filtering of sounds that I feed into the Polivoks and then influence with input from the A-145. The sound quality should improve significantly when the Gozinta gets here. Mostly I’ve been using my Buddha Machines and my Gristleism as sound sources, but I’ll be using notes from my ukulele soon enough.

Once the VCO is here I’ll spend a lot of time on (re)learning synthesis fundamentals, mainly how the VCO and the LFO interact. (I spent way too much time wondering which VCO to get, and then waiting to hear back from non-responsive Craigslist people. I also missed out on some Muffwiggler.com forum sale items because I misunderstood the 100-post limit. I thought it was a 100-post requirement to participate in the marketplace. But I later learned that it’s a 100-post requirement to post items for sale. Anyone can buy. So, I lost on on a Dixie II. So be it.)

My main goal in this modular exploration is to learn how the tools work. But I know the best way to learn is to have a project, so I want to work on hazy ambient-quality sounds and some basic beat-making. I imagine I may add a step sequencer of some sort soon, but I’ll probably use Loopy on my iPad for awhile. If I add too many modules at the start, I’ll just get lost. Also, as inexpensive as the core components are individually, they do add up. Fortunately there is a large marketplace of secondhand modules.

I’d like to get a case with a proper cover and handle. I dig the waterproof Synthrotek ones, though I’m not informed about what to use that narrow 1U tile section for.

Anyhow, that’s where I’m at. If you’re already deep in modular/Eurorack activity and anything here looks like it’s gonna blow up, or anything looks like it’s missing, I’d appreciate being told so.

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